Category Archives: Brokenness

We Hold These Truths To Be Self Evident


In the year 1776, just a few short years after attempting to make the largest cup of tea in the history of the world in the Boston harbor, because Americans like big things or possibly other reasons, the American colonies declared independence from the United Kingdom. [The British were unimpressed, inspiring the idiom, “That’s weak tea.”] In doing so, they prepared one of the greatest documents in history, calling it the Declaration of Independence. The preamble of that declaration is one of the best and most beautiful pieces of prose ever written, saying:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

Declaration of Independence

I’m not sure that anyone had ever said that treasured phrase before. See, I love that they said that. They were willing to set out at the beginning of their argument the things that they didn’t think needed proof or explanation. It’s possible, though, that they missed some truths they held to be self evident even before that, like who the “men” that were created equal included.

Things got awkward from there, as the constitution they established for their United States of America allowed for slaves without any right to liberty or the pursuit of happiness – or even life, really. Those rights certainly weren’t unalienable for them. Beyond that, in Article I, section ii, they say that for census purposes, all free people are to be counted fully, but all slaves are only worth 3/5 of a person. But all men are created equal. That’s self-evident.

Maybe it’s that they’re created equal but can be made less equal? Maybe it’s that “men” doesn’t mean slave men?

Maybe the problem is the term “self evident.”

Because all of our arguments begin with the truths we hold to be self-evident. They’re so evident to us that they remain unsaid but at their core aren’t evident at all to the people we’re arguing with.

I’m going to jump in on #TakeAKnee, here. Congratulations if you already got there before me. You’re very smart. Now bear with me, because afterwards we’re going to jump off somewhere different.

Taking a knee for the anthem

People in the United States are currently very angry with each other. You may have noticed. I’m Canadian, so I’m not angry with anybody, although I’m sorry for that. They’re angry because one professional football player decided that during the playing of the national anthem he would go down on one knee rather than stand. He chose to do this because he believed that it would bring attention to the fact that people who looked like him were generally not, in fact, considered by people who look like me to have been created equal with unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. People who look like me would generally deny that, of course, but based on what was going on in the news at the time, he held that truth to be self evident. Self evident is the fact that this garnered more national attention and conversation than just about any other peaceful way he could have brought this topic up.

It sparked so much debate that the President of the United States called him a son of a bitch, along with the many, many others who have followed up this football player’s lead, taking up the practice of kneeling during the national anthem until all the supposedly equal people who don’t look like me have the unalienable rights that I people who look like me have. It sparked so much debate that people have called for his job and his life. People are very, very angry.

So they argue. For the most part, the angry people aren’t even arguing about what the players are protesting, though – they’re arguing about the form that protest takes.They do it mostly in comments and tweets. And they aren’t hearing each other. They can’t understand… they can’t fathom why people on the other side of the debate can hold such stupid, ill-informed opinions and beliefs.

Maybe it’s because there’s no room for preamble in a tweet and no one reads a comment long enough to have one, and the truths that they hold self evident stand only in the background.

Leaving behind the reasons for the protest, we focus on whether or not it’s okay for someone to kneel during the nation anthem. After all, men have fought and died for that anthem and the flag it describes, and to disrespect that anthem is to disrespect them. And it disrespects the country. And the principles the country was founded on. And we hold those principles dearly. They are sacred. The flag is sacred. The anthem is sacrosanct. This is not an acceptable form of protest. That is self evident.

Leaving behind the reasons for the protest, we focus on whether or not it’s okay for someone to kneel during the nation anthem. After all, men have fought and died for centuries for the right to self expression and peaceful protest against government-sanctioned tyranny; for the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all equal men. The greatest way to honor their sacrifice is to exercise the rights they fought and died for in an attempt to make better the country that the flag and anthem represent. Kneeling during the anthem is a profoundly patriotic form of protest. That is self evident.

And so these two mutually exclusive, self evident truths put pots on their heads and run at each other like rutting sheep until there’s nothing left but pain and a lot of loud, clanging noise. And that is a microcosm of how we treat each other all the time in every debate we engage in, and it’s why we just get angrier instead of understanding each other.

I’m not an expert in football. I’m not really an expert in America or American politics, although I have watched The West Wing through three times and have a Facebook account. What I am a theoretical expert in is communication and Christian religious expression. And that’s why it’s taken me a thousand words to come to what I really want to say.

Every embittered, vitriolic argument that we get into is because we hold truths to be self evident. And they aren’t. Virtually no truth is self evident. I mean, it’s evident to ourselves, but we can’t assume that it’s evident to everyone else’s selves. And that is incredibly difficult to get our heads around. We resist that discovery. We can’t understand how anything so MIND-BLOWINGLY OBVIOUS can’t be understood by THESE IDIOTS who are clearly OBSTINATE AND WILLFULLY IGNORANT. And neither can they. About us.

When the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 1:20 that, “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse,” what he’s saying is that the truth of God is self-evident. His qualities. His desires. His very existence. And we, who are Christians, tend to agree. Whether from our observations of the natural world, our studies of scripture, our indoctrination, or our experiences with the supernatural world, we enter into every conversation and debate with that underlying principle: God Is. And not only Is he, but his word and will known. And not only are his word and will know, but they are paramount.

Atheists enter the discussion knowing that the natural, observable world is all there is. There is no Invisible Sky-Man having a floating tea-party with a flying spaghetti monster. Religion is simply an attempt by the elite to control the masses or a crutch for the intellectually and emotionally needy. That is self evident.

And  that’s fine when the argument is about God’s existence, because those core issues are in play. We’re debating those things that we each hold to be self evident, and even if we can’t understand why the other side doesn’t, we understand that the bearing they have on the discussion.

The problem comes during the myriad of other cultural land-mines we discuss.

Abortion.

Same sex marriage.

Trans-gender issues.

In every discussion one side enters in holding certain truths to be self evident. God is. His will is apparent. His will is paramount. [In the case of abortion, that a fetus or zygote or whatever is a fully human person, created equal and endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.]

The other side side enters in holding the self evident truths that personal equality, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are unalienable rights, personal decision is sacrosanct, and no one can take them away on the millennia old, made up word of some invisible sky-man.

Even within the Christian community, we carry beliefs about the nature of God that inform every position we hold, every nuanced interpretation of scripture, every way we live out our faith in the world. And we hold them to be self evident. Calvinists hold the truth to be self evident that God’s sovereignty extends to willing all that happens. Arminians hold the truth to be self evident that God’s love necessitates free will for his creation.

We all agree that God is Love, but somewhere underneath it is a self evident truth about what that means that others don’t find to be evident at all.

We all agree that love is good, but somewhere underneath it is a self evident truth about what that means that others don’t find to be evident at all.

We assume that our interpretation of scripture is correct.

We assume that other people should care about what we understand scripture teaches.

We assume that if we are just forceful enough, other people will accede to our self evident truths and thereby arrive at the same position we hold that flows from them.

But we keep arguing the position that flows from them and will never arrive at agreement unless we can agree on the foundational principles that under-gird them.

We need to take a deep breath and accept that the truths we hold dear are not self evident. They require knowledge and experience to arrive at. And maybe, just maybe, we haven’t had the knowledge and experience to arrive at the truths that someone else holds to be self evident.

Does this mean we quit talking? Of course not. But it means we have to have a measure of grace for each other. We have to understand that people who disagree with us are not intrinsically stupid or mean-spirited or whatever. They are using a different foundation to build on. Unless we understand their foundation, their building won’t make sense. And we ridicule things that don’t make sense. And that doesn’t make anything better.

So we talk. We share our stories. We share our beliefs. We listen as other people do the same. We stop making statements as if they are self evident. And we do all this with the basic assumption that their argument makes as much sense as ours does. We find out how they got there and discuss that. In order to be understood, we must first seek to understand. That’s useful communication. That’s loving communication. That’s Godly communication. Otherwise all anyone hears is a clanging gong or a noisy cymbal. That’s why the soundtrack of our world is a vast multitude of pots banging against each other and wounded people falling to the ground.

I hold that truth to be self evident.

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He Gives and Takes Away


I had another tough question come in from a friend and spent some time turning it over this morning. I figure if he’s asking, the answer might be useful to someone else too, so to you, dear reader, I offer my response as well:

Hi ——–,

Your question was, “Can you explain ‘He gives and takes away?’ Since God doesn’t punish, what might he take away?”

That’s a heavy question. It hits a lot of people on a very personal level. It’s also not one that I can give a short, pithy answer to. Although I’m not sure I’ve ever given a short, pithy answer to a theological question. They’re usually wrong.

So, rather than give an answer, I’ll share a bit of thought process.

First, there’s an assumption in the question that God doesn’t punish. There are definitely times in the Bible that God does actively punish, although it’s usually on a national level rather than an individual level. There are some times that God does actively give or bless people in scripture. Let’s hold that in an open hand for a minute.

Second, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away,” is from Job 1:21. The context of Job is a drama that teaches Jewish people how to respond to struggle and pain. As Job says this, he’s just had three servants come and tell him that he’s lost everything he owns and his family is dead. Job’s response is to acknowledge that he didn’t come into the world with anything, he won’t leave with anything, and God is sovereign over all. He’s saying, “It wasn’t really mine anyway.” This is true. When he says that God took it away, though, he’s wrong. According to the narrative he’s not aware of (irony), Satan took it away with God’s permission as a test – some sort of celestial bet, although God gives permission. So within the immediate context, the statement, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away,” was wrong, and basing theology off of it is dangerous – as dangerous as basing theology off his friends’ statements that what was happening was his fault and God was punishing him (which was still a very common belief in Jesus’ time).

Third, people want to reduce theology to the simplest possible, most easily digestible form. They want black and white; always and never. What we see in the whole of scripture, though, is “sometimes.” For those who want consistency and certainty, it’s easiest to say “consistently, certainly sometimes.” God is God, and he’s allowed that. What we see is that sometimes God does give. Sometimes God does take away. Most of the time, he lets stuff happen and leaves his justice for later.

So the statement he gives and takes away is accurate. Sort of. Sometimes. 

The greater truth is in the heart attitude behind it, though. We remember that God is sovereign. Everything that we have, whether given actively or inherently is from him. I tremendously enjoy the air he gave me to breathe this morning. Someday I’m going to stop breathing it. I go. Everything I have goes. God remains. God is greater than me. God is greater than my stuff. The mini-lesson found in the following verse, what the audience is supposed to get, is that even though Job thinks God is actively responsible (he’s not) is: “In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.”

It’s a statement of peace. It means that whatever our circumstances are, God remains, and we find our worth and being in him. Growing resentful or angry at him for our circumstances is sinful. Worshiping him in the midst of pain is glorifying.

What we should be saying as we echo that statement is that it doesn’t matter who’s fault it is. God is God and God is Good. He doesn’t stop being God in hard times. It’s what Paul echoes in Phillipians 4:11-13 – “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

So maybe it’s God’s fault and maybe it isn’t. Maybe stuff just happened and he didn’t stop it. We still worship, though, because worship isn’t about us and what we have. It’s not transactional. It’s conversational. It’s relational. It’s about who he is and who we are in him.

I hope that answers your question. If not, bug me more. I’m cool with that.

Peace,

Aaron

I haven’t been feeling particularly moved to “blog” lately, but if anyone has any honest questions – not “heh-heh what about this” questions with the intent of trying to trip me up, but honest questions seeking answers, head over to the contact page. I’ll be happy to make posts from them and leave your name out of it.

I Can’t Stand In Solidarity


I remember being in seventh grade, at a new school, and not terribly popular. I came in halfway through the year with a wonderful combination of introversion and behavioral problems and quickly made as many real friends as I had at my last school (none). I immediately tried out for the basketball team, which would have been a good idea if I could play basketball or had any athletic ability at all, but I couldn’t and didn’t. I did manage to acquire a nickname at least (Reeman Semen, because Reeman has a vague similarity to my last name for kids that don’t bother learning how to pronounce it and bodily fluid,s are funny to middle-schoolers).

been_mean

Kids are mean.

There’s one day that’s standing out in my memory in particular, when I waited around for a ride after school and a couple of kids decided to play keep-away with my hat. I was an unwilling participant. They were both bigger than me, but most people were. More than twenty years later I still recall running back and forth in increasing despair and frustration, trying to get my hat back before they threw it again, or futilely trying catch it in the air as it sailed over my head. Mostly I remember the look on Matt’s face as his stupid grin turned to shock when instead of chasing the hat he’d just thrown, I kept running at him and punched him in the dick. Then I went and chased my hat while he was on the ground.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

He had absolutely no understanding of why I did it. I didn’t understand why they’d take my hat.

This is the memory that’s rattling around in my mind the morning after at least 127 people were killed in Paris in terror attacks. Maybe it was by ISIS. At this point they’ve claimed responsibility, but they would anyway, so who knows. I’m sure they wanted to, at least. Our assumption at this point is that Islamic extremists did it for reasons. I’m sure it seemed like a good idea at the time.

People on my Facebook feed are jumping to either lay blame or “stand in solidarity,” with the people of Paris. Those are both very easy things to do. Sort of. It’s easy to say we stand in solidarity, but I’m not sure we really know what that means. To be in solidarity means to be in agreement of feeling or action. Can we possibly know what they’re feeling right now? I know that whenever I’m going through a brutal time and someone tells me they know how I feel, I’m pretty aggravated. You don’t know how I feel. You know how you feel, and you’re projecting. We’re certainly not in agreement on action, because no one is agreeing on action. Anything we’re feeling or wanting to do is based on our experiences, not their’s. The truth of it is that we don’t understand.

And they don’t understand.

And the people who did it don’t understand.

If I see one more post with a simple reason or a simple answer, I may just punch a dick. As much as people want to make this about religion or economics or refugees or mental illness, anything we blame is oversimplifying an incredibly complex problem (and anyone blaming refugees deserves a dick punch). The nice thing about simple problems is that they have simple solutions. The problem with simple solutions to complex problems is that we tend to be shocked and dismayed to discover that they create more problems.

And the problems we have now tend to be in large part because of simple solutions we’ve tried in the past.

Maybe let’s try not to do it again.

I can’t stand in solidarity with the people of Paris, though, because I don’t understand. I can’t comprehend what they’re feeling or what they’re going through. More than that, I’m almost certain that any (re)action is going to be wrong. Because as much as this feels random and sudden and brutally out of the blue (and for the people that died, it was), it was a reaction too. Which was probably a reaction to something else. Which was probably a reaction to something completely different.

We don’t understand and we don’t understand.

At some point, something happened. They weren’t born wanting to kill. The people that taught them to kill weren’t born wanting to kill. Something happened and we don’t understand.

What I do understand is lashing out. I know, because we want to lash out now. We feel fear. We feel impotence. What they did was wrong. It was. Terribly, horribly wrong. We feel the need to do something to stop it from happening again. I don’t know what that is, but it’s almost certainly not violence. I know that the people who did this are dead, and at the same time hardly any of them are. There’s a large, amorphous group that we can blame, and blaming feels good.

We see this group as having done something to 127+ individual people in Paris. They see a few individuals as having done something grand to a group. As long as we keep thinking, as long as both “sides” keep thinking of people as faceless groups, it’s easy to advocate for simple solutions that fuel cycles of hate.

I’m rambling. I don’t know what to say. I’m in shock. We all are. So let’s take a deep breath. This isn’t simple. This isn’t a kid lashing out because someone was picking on them, but at the same time, people don’t lash out for no reason. They might pick irrational targets and respond in inappropriate ways, but there are reasons.

I know some of the comments I’m going to hear… maybe here, maybe on Facebook, maybe comments on other things. No reason is good enough for this. They (the faceless group) have forfeited their right to understanding. I don’t know. Maybe. But whatever our solutions are, they’re going to make more problems. I mean, I got my hat back, but later on, when Matt’s balls felt better, I got beat. And later, after that, I got him back. Again. Because that’s what happens when we have adolescent solutions.

I don’t know what the adult solution is here. I don’t know if there is one. I know it’s not simple. It probably involves pain and humility and being more like Christ, though, and being down on our knees and loving our enemies even when we don’t want to (like we ever do).

I don’t stand in solidarity with the people of Paris. I can’t. But my heart is breaking for broken people in a broken world that just can’t seem to stop breaking it more. Because I’m one of them.

So I’m #PrayingForParis.

Tax Collectors and “Nominals”


Sometimes my life seems like a constant string of reevaluating opinions and attitudes and stupid things I say. Sometimes they’re things that I’ve been taught and never really thought too hard about. Sometimes they’re things that seem obvious on the surface, but there’s a lot going on underneath that I ignore. Sometimes it’s not that I’m wrong, it’s just that I’m just arrogant and graceless and went too far in what I said.

I’m not sure where this falls on the spectrum, but for the past few days, I’ve been thinking more and more about the Pew Research study (supposedly showing the decline of American Christianity) and the spins that various media outlets are giving it. The popular consensus seems to be the one that Ed Stetzer puts forward: that committed, or “convictional” Christians aren’t going anywhere, while “nominal Christians” (Christians in name only), or Default Christians as I put it in a recent post, aren’t checking the box any more. That’s basically what I said, and I likely wouldn’t have bothered saying it if I’d already known the number of much “larger” names saying the same thing.

In a nutshell, I said that it was a good thing. I said that nominal Christians shouldn’t be called Christians anyway. Then I went another step further to say that there are still a lot of nominal or default Christians in our pews that should basically go home and stop pretending. I said that if they did, then our churches would be more free to follow Jesus. I compared them to the fat of the church. Sometimes I’m an ass.

toofar

It’s not that I’m entirely wrong in what I said (I don’t think). Having pews full of marginal and uncommitted people who aren’t willing to commit to following Christ—becoming “real” Christians—does “weigh our churches down” and leave a less effective witness. I’ve been convinced, though, that my attitude towards it is unChristlike.

A big part of that was a reevaluation of Jesus’ “outreach” program, particularly as referenced in Matthew 9:11 —

When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

and, lest there be any confusion about exactly what kind of people these Pharisees meant, Matthew 11:19 —

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’

Those passages are nothing new to most Christians. I’ve heard them a million times. I’ve quoted them and taught from them. I think about them as I think about the people that to all of the obvious things that we assume people outside of the Church do… those filthy “non-Christians”… the sweaty unchurched. I think about Jesus going into bars and building relationships and teaching them grace. I think of it as an example or a metaphor for us going out into “the world” to “reach people” for Jesus.

The thing is, that’s not what happened.

By simple arrangement of geography and priorities, Jesus rarely, if ever, hung out with the “unchurched.” If we want to look for examples of outreach to the Gentiles, we need to look at Paul and the post-ascension apostles. Jesus, in his own words, came to seek and save the lost sheep of Israel. The tax-collectors, the drunkards, the whores and the sinners, they were Jews. They were people that knew God, born and raised in the synagogues, but lived contradictory lifestyles. They were backsliders. They were the nominals. They were the default Jews.

I don’t know what went on behind closed doors. I don’t know what Jesus looked like at their feasts and parties, and I’m not going to presume to. I do know that Jesus wasn’t rejoicing over them leaving. He certainly wasn’t coming down on them with God’s own thunder for their “sinfulness”. He loved them. He spent time with them. He was Jesus to them.

So much of the time my grace runs out at the door of the church. When I look at nominals as a pastor, especially long-term nominals, I get frustrated. I have a get-in-or-get-out mentality. I want to pour my effort into the people that seem to be “getting it,” and not waste it on the people that don’t. I want them to drop their crap and commit so that I can lead them.  I’ll give all sorts of room for non-Christians to be messy. It’s expected. Sinners gonna sin. When it comes to people that have claimed the Savior, though, I have different expectations, and I don’t know what to do when my expectations aren’t met, so most of the time I ignore them. If I don’t ignore them, I want to preach at them so they’ll stop frustrating and embarrassing me.

Because it’s about me. My frustration. My embarrassment on God’s behalf.

Apparently Jesus has a lot more grace for nominals than most of us do. Maybe instead of wanting to clear them out so that the faithful can move forward to reaching the unchurched, we should be “coming to seek and save the lost sheep of Christianity.” Honestly, I’m not entirely sure what that would look like. I do know that it probably looks like something that could get a “good Christian” a bad name or a pastor a reputation for lackadaisical faith.

I know that there are plenty of times that scripture calls out the “lukewarm,” and Jesus calls for extreme commitment, but there’s something else going on too. It’s something I need to learn and explore. I know I’m going to tend to waffle around between extremes, but a pursuit of Christlikeness means continually adjusting my aim. Right now, I feel like God is reminding me of something important.

Jesus, friend of nominals, loves them. I can’t throw them under the bus.

THE_CROSS_by_thefairypixel

 

Reviewing Being Reviewed


Publishing The Art of Being Broken (coming June 15th, 2015) has been a very different experience than publishing Worshipping Through John. It’s not even out yet and I’m seeing a huge difference. One of the biggest is in my level of attachment to it. WTJ is a devotional book. It’s relatively short, very linear, and wrapped around the simple and specific application of scripture. TAOBB took so much more out of me. It’s my experiences, my (hopefully inspired) thoughts, my prose. It’s felt intimidating to start putting out advance copies to reviewers that don’t have any stock in making me feel good about myself and wait for their unbiased reviews.

IMG_1933

Each time that one comes in, posted to Goodreads or Amazon or a blog, I’m unhealthily fixated on the resulting opinion. It can be hard to separate criticism of the book from criticism of myself. It’s not that they’ve been bad. In fact, the worst review to come in is 3 stars out of 5. I still took that hard, but I’m also very aware that I’m finding myself looking at the 5 star reviews for personal affirmation, and that’s not healthy either. I think that a piece of it is that I feel like these reviews are saying whether the past year that I’ve put into this book has been worth it or a waste of time. Even though I say (and believe) that the early readers and editors that have benefited from it make it worth it on their own, and the way I’ve grown through the whole process has been worth it on it’s own, there’s still a piece of me that is looking for outside validation.

So there’s that.

Really, though, this has been a long-winded and roundabout way of saying that reviews are starting to come in. Hopefully as the book launches in mid-June, there will be a solid body of positive reviews and people will buy it and read it and grow closer to God and embrace their brokenness and give me money because of them. So far, it seems that if the reviewers are right, that could well happen.

One thing that’s been made clear already is that some people aren’t going to “get it,” and I need to be okay with that. One review called it “rambling” and questioned my application of scripture. Another, more positive, one said that they had a bit of trouble understanding it because it lacks thesis statements and conclusions to each chapter with application points. Both of those things might be true, depending on your perspective. The Art of Being Broken is intentionally written conversationally and anecdotally, partly because I’m a person that doesn’t really like being told what to do, but if you walk me to it, I can appreciate truth and I think other people are often like that, too. It’s not that it doesn’t have purpose or flow, but that it’s slightly non-linear and doesn’t have point by point application. Every person that reads it is going to pull something a little bit different, and hopefully non-heretical, out of it. They already have. I love to hear about that.

Pastor Floyd Johnson posted a review on his book review blog today that I wanted to share, both because he put an exceptional amount of thought into the review and because it makes the book sound exceptionally good. He says things like:

Even as I read, I found myself recommending the book as I borrowed illustrations included therein.

and

The book should be required collateral reading for the college or seminary course in pastoral counseling.

and

the book offers valuable insight into the broken souls we all bring to the cross.

So I wanted to give a link to it and say a public “thank you” for the work he put into the review. I appreciated what he shared of himself, and it gave me some good things to consider as I move toward the launch.

A free 3-chapter sample of The Art of Being Broken is available at Noisetrade.com

Your Voice Matters


Years ago, Jamie The Very Worst Missionary gave me (and the rest of Christendom) some fantastic advice: “Ask yourself, is what I’m about to say gonna make me sound like a total douche.” It’s an excellent post, and I recommend you read it, but for me the advice resonated outside that context. Personally, I love the way she communicates. At the same time, there are people reading, who when they saw the word “douche,” stopped. I’ve gotten in trouble for my word choice on a number of occasions. Often it’s online, because I tend to relax my filter a bit on social media, but it’s happened from the pulpit, too—usually from word choices that I hadn’t given a second thought to but other people found offensive. When it happens, I’m torn between judging people for being too uptight, and recognizing that there are consequences to the way I choose to say things. There are consequences to the actual things I choose to say, too, but that’s something entirely different.

We’re living at a time when it’s incredibly easy to get our words out to the world and incredibly difficult to take them back. It’s important that what we have to say doesn’t get lost in how we’re saying it. Some of you are with me right now. Some of you just think you are. I’ve lost listeners because I’ve used words like “douche,” and “pissed off.” I’ve been told that such coarse language reflects my heart, because “out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.”

overflow

I don’t disagree with that at all. I just disagree with where it’s aimed. I don’t think that the words you use flow out of your heart as much as your environment. I’ve had to learn to change my words as my environment has changed, but that’s a different thing. You can say hateful things with pretty words, and grace filled things with ugly ones.

You can say hateful things with pretty words, and grace filled things with ugly ones.

Under the guise of free speech, Christians have filled social media (and media-media) with words that have belittled homosexuals. Some of it has been intentional, some has been thoughtless. Out of the overflow of their hearts, they spoke. Under the guise of free speech, Christians have said brutal, hateful things about Islam and people that follow it. In both cases, there have been consequences.

“We have freedom of speech,” they say. “We are free to say whatever we want.” And they’re right. They can, legally. The government isn’t going to step in to stop them. Unfortunately, they’ve confused freedom of speech with freedom from consequences. Our voice matters. It’s the reason that free speech laws have an exemption for what are called fighting words. The law recognizes that there are things that we express that are designed to get a reaction or to wound people. They’re words that hurt, and when people are hurt, they hurt back.

I would never defend the actions of militant extremists that react to words (or pictures) with guns, but the Christian who goes out of their way to defame and profane what another holds sacred is speaking from the overflow of a Christless heart. It’s hard to stand up for the truth when the Truth isn’t in you. I see a huge difference between the people who can say homosexuality is contrary to God’s purpose for humanity with a brokenness that loves and hurts for the people who deal with a homosexual orientation, and the people who bludgeon them with harsh words and threats of hellfire for their “immoral ways.” I see a huge difference between people who will say that they disagree with some of the teaching of the Quran while presenting a gentle Gospel, and the people who hear that Islam prohibits the depiction of the prophet Muhammad and so they stage an exhibit to prove they can. Then they say, “See how violent Islam is?” while ignoring the violence their exercise of free speech has done.

Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.

If it’s your belief, and you feel it’s important to do so, you can say that you believe that Islam is wrong. You can say that you believe that homosexuality is wrong. You can, if you want, say that you believe that swearing is wrong. When you do, though, remember the people that you’re saying it to. Remember the people that you’re saying it about. Ask yourself why you’re saying it. Are you saying it because you want to effect change, or are you saying it just because you want to be heard? Is what you’re about to say going to make you sound like a total douche? Let your words flow from a heart that knows grace. Let your words flow from a heart that knows love. Let your words flow from a heart that is full of God.

Your voice matters.

5 Things You Learn Attending a Church You Used To Work At


Almost a year ago, it was announced at Cornerstone Wesleyan Church that my position, Pastor of Youth and Worship, was being terminated, and I was not being moved into the newly created position of Pastor of Servant Life and Community development. There was some fallout. Not as much as there likely would be if a senior pastor left, but there were a lot of opinions in the ring after the announcement. It wasn’t a surprise to me—it had been an ongoing discussion at the leadership level for quite a while, and I was given plenty of opportunity for input. I was left in an odd position, though. I still loved the church, I had nowhere else to go, and I felt called to write for a while instead of going straight into the brutality of the pastoral search process.

Businesswoman Clearing Her Office

After a bunch of praying and thinking and talking with my wife, we decided (with approval of the leadership) to continue attending Cornerstone. I’m not sure what I would have done if they had said no… it was a bit awkward all-round. I’m not sure anyone in leadership ever considered saying no. They’re awesome, supportive people. If it was me in their place, though, I would have been hesitant and worried about issues of transition and disturbance, and wondering if I could trust me in the background of the congregation. In the end, I’m glad we did. I think I may have grown more in the year of transition, out of “active” ministry, than I did in the three years before.

These are some things that I learned in the transition:

1. There are people more upset about it than you are.

 “I can’t believe how the church treated you…” … “It’s just not right…” … “This is ridiculous…” … “What are they thinking?”

As hard as it is to step away from the role you’ve poured yourself into for years, there’s a certain peace in it. Let’s face it, if you’re in a place spiritually and emotionally that you can continue to attend a church after they’ve fired you not renewed your contract, you’ve probably left on fairly decent terms. There will be people in the church, though—your advocates, your friends, and sometimes people completely unexpected—that will take greater offense than you. One of the biggest challenges you face immediately after the announcement is dealing with people who want to badmouth the church you love, or vent anger you don’t feel, or vote with their feet and leave.* It’s hard, when you are dealing with some measure of hurt, to be put in the awkward position of defending the church that’s terminating you. Even worse, the angriest people—the ones most likely to leave—are your closest friends, and you can be left feeling even more alone attending church without them.

*I want to make it clear that not everyone who left CWC at this point left because of feelings about me. For some it was directional over removing the youth specialty. For others it was the culmination of feelings that had been building for quite a while. I don’t want to misrepresent them as leaving in a fit of pique.

2. There are people less upset about it than you are.

Sure, you expect that there are some people happy to see you go. There are always going to be people that you’ve butted heads with; personally, ministerially, or theologically. Some of them might have even been working behind the scenes to get rid of you. It can be hard to see those people week in and week out, wondering if under their smile and handshake lies smug satisfaction at a job well done. I’m not talking about those people, though. I’m talking about the surprising majority of people who really just don’t care that much. These are the people that you shook hands with and exchanged pleasantries after the service. They gave vague compliments on sermons or services and carried on with their lives. They were fans, but not followers. They were the ones who, as Lenny said in season three, episode 24 of The Simpsons, were “well-wishers in that they don’t wish you any specific harm.” The fact is that in any given congregation, most people are more bonded to each other and the church as a whole than they are to you. And that’s healthy for them and hard on your ego. It may also be the part that hurts the most.

3. You’re less important than you think you are.

When you’re going strong (or weak) in church ministry, it’s easy to take the weight of the world on your shoulders. You fret over every message or song or service or event. You comb through numbers and struggle with what you can do differently to improve them. When things are going well, you rejoice and take credit. When they go pear-shaped, you take the blame on yourself. It’s hard not to, because that’s what everyone around you seems to be saying. You pour yourself to the people you minister to, and you pour yourself into the programs you have responsibility for, because what happens with them is on you. And then it’s not. And life goes on. You watch programs go on with out you, and people keep meeting, and growing, and learning about God without you. And the service doesn’t fall apart without your guidance. You start to wonder why you were even there at all.

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4. Letting go is harder than you expect.

When leadership changes hands, whether between two paid pastors, or to a volunteer, things change. It’s inevitable. People have different visions and different skill sets. One of the worst things about staying at a church you used to work at is watching things be done differently. It’s one thing to think about not being in charge anymore, it’s another to have to see the reality of it. Programs you set up are dismantled. People make mistakes that you wouldn’t have. New leaders make decisions that you disagree with, and you can’t stop them. You have to learn all over again how to be a follower—a servant. Continuing to serve as a volunteer in a ministry you used to run means swallowing a lot of pride. It’s hard on the digestive system, but good for the soul.

5. Your legacy is not what you think it is.

When you know a transition is coming, you work hard to make sure you’re leaving things healthy and running as smoothly as possible. You may work on polishing tech and leaving a great setup that will serve the church well. You may work to develop the volunteers you had to carry on after you. You may set up program structures and guidelines designed to keep going well after you’re gone. You may do all those things, and find that they’re turned around in weeks. The things that you thought would endure, don’t. At the same time, though, some of the things that you thought wouldn’t, do. Turns of phrase you used, or little bits of lessons you taught will stay in people’s hearts and on their lips. Moments you spent together turn into foundational building blocks of a growing faith. More than that, though, you see that how you deal with leaving becomes your legacy. People remember your actions more than your words. How you leave may have more of a lasting impact that anything you did before.

It’s easy to give lip-service to the idea that it’s God’s church (or program, or ministry), but seeing the truth of it brings a new perspective. It really isn’t about us. Life really does go on. The biggest thing you learn through it though, the secret #6, is that it’s an opportunity to grow in grace. If you can do it, if you can reign in your pride and learn to serve again—if you can stand to be seen by your people as less than you were before, you can be more. I know that I’ve matured more through this process than I ever thought possible, and the church God gives us to next will be blessed through it. They’ll find a pastor that’s less attached to himself and more attached to them. They’ll find a pastor who knows that being humbled isn’t the worst thing in the world. They’ll find a pastor who knows himself better, and knows better the God whose shoulders everything really rests on. He’ll become more because I’ve become less.

A Book!


It’s been a long time coming, but The Art of Being Broken will be available for purchase June 15, 2015.

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Four years ago when I started writing it, this was a different book. I was a different person. In a way, I’m grateful for the 3 year hiatus my writing took while I was at Cornerstone Wesleyan. During that time, I published a book of devotionals for worship teams, which led praise teams together through the Gospel of John, prompting them to take a deeper look at their ministry together. That process gave me confidence in my writing, and helped me learn a lot about putting a book together for publishing. The experience was invaluable as I prepared The Art of Being Broken for print.

More than that, though, I grew as a person and a pastor. When I started writing this book four years ago, it had a very different focus. Really, it boiled down almost entirely to “Don’t be fake. If you’re messed up, be authentically messed up so that people can know the real you.” There is definitely still an element of that, but it evolved so much. Part of that was becoming convinced that God wants more for us than authentic brokenness. He wants to take our brokenness and turn it into holiness. He wants to take our wounds and mess and broken pieces and turn it into art that shows his grace and love to the world in a real, authentic way.

I’m not great at self-promotion. Most of the time, I have trouble seeing what I do as really good or valuable. This book though, I believe is excellent. That feels really weird to say, but I think that if you sit down to read it, you’ll find that it speaks to your heart. Maybe you’ll find God speaking to your heart through it.

What if everything isn’t fine?
What if there is life outside of our shells?
What if there is beauty under our masks?
What if there is healing beyond brokenness?
What if we could see the image of God in ourselves?
What if God’s art is made from our broken pieces?

In The Art of Being Broken, Aaron Mark Reimer opens up an authentic, sometimes awkward, occasionally hilarious, one-way conversation about our brokenness, the things we use to cover it, and the healing that can come through exposing it.

A three chapter excerpt of The Art of Being Broken is now available free at Noisetrade.com